The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Book Review
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
By: Stieg Larsson
Mikael Blomkvist’s reputation was ruined. The courts convicted him of libel, and the magazine he co-owned, Millennium, would suffer because of it. Henrik Vanger received a framed flower every year on his birthday, without fail. He was taunted year after year by the unknown murderer of his beloved niece. At eighty-two, with few years left to solve this mystery, he hires Mikael Blomkvist to make an attempt at solving the mystery. Will Mikael discover who murdered Henrik’s favorite relative?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo can be read for enjoyment — it is an exciting thriller — or it can be
infinitely analyzed and dissected, if that is more to your liking. After my third time watching the Swedish cinema version of the novel, I chose the second route.
Yes, I was a horrible person and watched the movie before reading the book. Even worse, I have watched it a total of four times, and the rest of the trilogy I have seen three times. Soon to be four. Admittedly, my passion for the movie, featuring the brilliant Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, has made my opinion of the novel a bit biased. That was part of the reason why I chose to take an analytical view of this novel. My other motive was an epiphany I had during the movie; I was sure I had discovered the purpose behind the seemingly gratuitous sex scene between Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. I wanted to see if Stieg Larsson and I were on the same wavelength.
Men Who Hate Women
This book, and the entire trilogy, was initially titled “Men Who Hate Women”. What an extremely accurate title for the book! The Swedes kept the original title, but when Knopf published the American English version of the book, they re-named it The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I understand why. Americans are less likely to pick up a book called “Men Who Hate Women” than a book under a different title. It’s just smart business to change it. Which title is the average American more comfortable with?
Actress who plays Lisbeth Salander
By Iker Arbildi (Noomi Rapace) [CC-BY-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
The most interesting character in this novel is undoubtedly Lisbeth Salander. She manages to steal the spotlight from Mikael Blomkvist despite having less page-time than the recently fallen-out-of-favor journalist. She has consistently been falsely labeled by others, which at times she has used to her advantage, but has also caused her endless suffering. The only thing that saved Lisbeth from being locked in a mental institution for the rest of her life was the support of her guardian, Palmgren. He was the first person to show Lisbeth respect and treat her like a human being. It would have been easier for everyone to make their problem [Lisbeth] disappear by institutionalizing her. Instead, Palmgren chose the difficult route that humanized the dehumanized Salander.
Unfortunately, Salander’s guardianship by Palmgren came to an end when he suffered a stroke. She lost a trusted ally and was then handed off to the next guardian. Nils Bjurman. Her new guardian is the book’s first example of men who hate women. If you are sensitive to violence against women, or violence at all, this section of the book is difficult to read — reactions range from discomfort to suffering from trauma. This part of the book is where many people have claimed that Larsson is not as feminist as he would like to think (1). Entertainment Weekly claimed that the “titillating detail” of the violence portrayed against women for storytelling value (along with a certain event that occurs in the second book in the trilogy) “casts a shadow” over the pro-feminism storyline (2). I disagree with both assertions, but I will not discuss what happens in the second novel. We must first finish our discussion on the first.
This is a perfect spot for a GIF of the scene in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.
In reference to the “titillating detail” in the book, titillating is definitely not a word I would use to describe the violent, disturbing events that occur in the novel. These scenes do not “excite or arouse agreeably”. They are horrifying and highlight the hopelessness and defenselessness of the victims. “…aside from their carefully defined legal relationship, [Lisbeth] was at the mercy of his discretion and defenseless (3)”. After sexually assaulting Lisbeth we get a particularly slimy thought from Bjurman: “This is better than a whore. She gets paid with her own money (4).”
Lisbeth Salander, the BAMF
What make Lisbeth such a great character is her refusal to accept the victim role. She chooses to be a survivor and fight back. There’s a scene where her employer, Armansky, has her meet with their client Dirch Frode, to discuss her research on Mikael Blomkvist. Frode “resorted to directing the question to Armansky, as if she had not been in the room (5).” Lisbeth’s brilliant way of letting Frode know his behavior was ridiculous is to ask Armansky, “Could you ask the client whether he would prefer the long or short version (6)?” That scene had me laughing until my sides hurt.
I enjoyed every second of this book. If, like me, you have seen the movie and have yet to read the book, expect the pace to be slower than you anticipated.
If you have read the book and have yet to see the movie, go foreign. Also, there will be some things switched around, and a few parts missing. If you’re a purist you will probably be disappointed. But if you keep an open mind, hopefully you will enjoy the movie as much as I have.
(1) Jerven, T. (2010). THE GIRL WHO DOUBTED STIEG LARSSON’S FEMINISM. Bitch Magazine: Feminist Response To Pop Culture, (48), 9.
(2) Schwartz, M. (2010). DID LARSSON HAVE A PROBLEM WITH WOMEN? (Cover story). Entertainment Weekly, (1108), 42.
(3) Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. N.p.: Vintage Books, 2005. 242. Print.
(4) Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. N.p.: Vintage Books, 2005. 244. Print.
(5) Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. N.p.: Vintage Books, 2005. 53. Print.
(6) Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. N.p.: Vintage Books, 2005. 53. Print.
Let me know in the comments below: Do you believe Stieg Larsson a feminist, or not?
Originally published at Austen Dumas.